Graphic design feels like a solitary job full of technical and software expertise. However, never dismiss the soft skills instead of focusing on the hard ones. The industry is deceptively collaborative and communicative, requiring designers to step out of their Photoshop bubbles to negotiate and brainstorm with clients and teams. These are the most essential interpersonal skills graphic designers need to make a positive name for themselves.
1. Active Listening
Active listening means you are 100% dedicated to the conversation. You are not picking up your phone or multitasking between sentences. Qualities that indicate active listening include:
- Eye contact
- Affirmative responses, like “right” or “I understand”
- Fluid facial expressions
Designers working with clients need active listening skills to ensure their clients feel tended to. They will look elsewhere if they notice you are distracted or not listening to their creative vision. This translates to traditional workplaces, too, where active listening demonstrates your willingness to collaborate with others and respect project leads.
This skill is a requirement for freelancers or graphic design leaders in companies. You are responsible for selling your services for the price they are worth. If clients fight back on this, you must be respectful and negotiate within the circumstances.
You may need more clients or want to assist someone in particular, but they cannot pay upfront for services. Negotiation is about being firm while having self-respect with others to explain why you deserve adequate compensation and what boundaries you have for the project.
Being able to work in a team is a top-tier resume highlight for graphic designers. For huge agencies with separate graphic design teams for video content, social media, websites, and UX/UI, you will need to cross into other departments frequently. It is a well-regarded interpersonal skill to bring collaborative enthusiasm and an easygoing attitude to team projects. The more willing you are to compromise and create with others for a more remarkable outcome than you would on your own, the better off you will be as a designer.
This is a part of being a good negotiator, but it is even more important outside of that context. Graphic designers are imaginative minds with a dedicated vision. When working with people without design expertise, it might be a frequent hurdle to jump if they think they know more about what’s best for the design than you.
Be kind yet assertive in informing people you’re working for why you believe strongly in your approach, and it will make projects go a lot more smoothly.
Graphic designers and small businesses must be able to stick to their obligations. Creative projects encounter numerous stopgaps, such as losing inspiration or client interpersonal troubles. To maintain your reputation, you must be responsible for staying on top of projects and communications.
Freelancers have countless other responsibilities, especially when it comes to tax season. Keeping track of business expenses and paying quarterly taxes — if you live in the U.S. — is essential for maintaining integrity and sound business standing.
This is an understated part of being a small business or graphic designer, but you won’t have a sustainable foundation if your personality doesn’t resonate with customers. It is essential for developing devoted customers who repeatedly purchase from you. Brand loyalty comes from the relationship people get with the designer. If it is too bland, standoffish, or rude, then you may want to rethink your public persona in a partially customer-facing industry.
Graphic designers have timelines to adhere to. Within one project, there could be 10 different deadlines for drafts and revisions. Clients must be able to rely on designers for prompt deliverables, especially when the consulting and discussion process can take so long. A lack of reliability shows up most in online reviews, where people can submit countless negative reviews because they expected results but didn’t meet their high expectations.
8. Conflict Resolution
Being a graphic designer or a small business owner will incite conflict from time to time, whether online or in person. Differences in vision or heated debates about pricing will inevitably result in a sour atmosphere for the relationship and the project’s potential. Conflict resolution is the interpersonal skill that will save you over and over again. If you can find a nugget of compromise during an argument, you could salvage the arrangement and create something beautiful.
Sometimes, this requires you to give more than the customer is willing to receive. It depends on the boundaries you set for yourself and your design standards. Respectfully conveying these to customers will minimize interpersonal headaches.
Whether a solopreneur or in an office, you will want to learn about graphic design leadership. One day, you might guide a team to undergo an intensive graphic design project with many parts. There may be brand guides, videos, social media fixings, website accouterment, and flyers. Throw in some t-shirts and a billboard for good measure.
Leadership comes in by ensuring everyone contributes to a cohesive package while staying in enthusiastic, productive spirits. Conflict resolution is another required facet of leadership.
10. Dealing with Criticism
Feedback is constant in creative sectors, and graphic designers should be used to constructive criticism. Some days, the comments are not as kind or welcome, but you must be able to process them with rationale and productivity. It is essential to discern when an unwarranted statement is exclusively harmful or hurtful and not to take that personally. Instead, it is crucial to focus on feedback that prioritizes growth and professional development.
There are many moving parts in small business and the graphic design industry. It is constantly changing alongside budding technologies and updating algorithms. You have to be prepared to be dynamic. If changes to routine or process upset you, consider how these moments can inspire you to be more creative.
Additionally, you may move from client to client with vastly different brand identities — how will you adapt to contrasting projects yet maintain quality?
A plethora of the qualities above require patience to perfect, including:
- Active listening
- Dealing with criticism
- Conflict resolution
It also applies to the graphic design process. With patience, one can only hope to trudge through mental roadblocks during creative work. You will have to practice patience if you have multiple revision requests in a week. If one of your team members is lagging behind the rest for no reason, compassion and patience will guide them back on track.
The most important interpersonal skill for graphic designers is empathy. You must understand your client enough to translate their words into visuals. Sometimes, the process is messy and confusing, but so long as you can understand the goals and dreams of the task through another’s eyes, it will make it easier to overcome.
Interpersonal Skills for Top-Tier Graphic Designers
Knowing the ins and outs of InDesign and GIMP is ideal for crafting high-quality designs. Interpersonal skills are more critical when staying in the industry long-term and forging positive relationships with clients and management. Every day is an opportunity to practice one or multiple soft skills to impress clients, management, and yourself.